Updated 22 August 2013

Great sex expectations

At times you expect something special in bed. Why doesn't it happen?

Why does sex on special occasions not always live up to expectations? And if you can’t quite make it work, what should you do?

Sometimes you just know it’s going to be fireworks and red-hot lurve between the sheets. But you can never be absolutely sure. Explosive sex has the potential to become a damp squib in no time, especially during those first times.

First time with a new partner, first time after a long period of expectation or abstinence, first dirty weekend away from the kids for ages.

Everything might be perfect: music, candles, champagne, flutters of anticipation. But none of it guarantees Eros will put in an appearance or raise your love to new heights.

Instead of lifting you to the pinnacle of ecstasy, that rascal might just as easily, and unceremoniously, dump you in the doldrums.

It’s at times like these the rustling of sheets is stilled and backs are sullenly turned. Under the cover of darkness you pretend to be asleep while your mind races in search of answers: Am I not desirable any more? Has the spark finally gone out of our relationship? Will things be this pathetic forever? Could there be someone else?

Special occasion sex
Unrealistic expectations don’t make good bedfellows, two sex therapists explain to YOU Pulse. Especially not when it comes to special occasion sex. Whether it’s your wedding night or a romantic weekend intended to stoke those cooling fires, if you expect too much you’ll probably have to settle for too little.

That doesn’t mean you should stop expecting though, says Jonti Searll, who calls himself South Africa’s foremost sexuality and sensuality instructor. On the contrary, you should have the highest possible expectations of your sex life. But reaching those dizzy heights takes understanding and strategy, not just a date in your diary.

Well-known sex therapist Dr Elna McIntosh agrees. She’s 50 and newly married and reveals that on their wedding night, she and her husband fell into bed – and slept. Nothing else.

Their wedding day had begun at 4am and got progressively crazier. “It was like running the Comrades,” she says. And who could possibly be in a fit state (or in the mood) for putting on a mind-blowing firework display at the end of a marathon? Luckily for Dr McIntosh’s groom, his bride was clued up enough on sexual matters to know when great expectations are, quite simply, unrealistic.

Sex isn’t a tap you can turn on whenever you like. Those times you feel you have to put on the best-ever performance are precisely those times when uncertainty and ignorance will rein in spontaneous abandonment.

Practise, practise
Pleasurable, orgasmic sex is something you have to learn and practise, the sex gurus say. It doesn’t happen by itself. And let’s be honest: parents and teachers don’t exactly set out to cultivate great lovers. In fact they don’t want any sexual experimentation at all!

No wonder a bride, who was barely able to gather the courage to talk openly about the art of seduction, finds it impossible to shed her inhibitions on her wedding night the way she does her nightgown. And how would she have mastered any of the secret skills that unlock the portals of pleasure?

Wedding nights aren’t the only time when there’s no coming together of promise, desire and satisfaction. There are periods in all marriages when being happy to see one another doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness in bed.

Dr McIntosh and her husband see one another only every second week – he lives in Kuruman, she in Johannesburg – and when he walks into the house after hours on the road, it’s time to catch up, share a meal and go to bed early. The next morning, of course, is a different story …

Special occasion sex, however, can’t seal all the cracks in a relationship in one weekend. Months or even years of discord and resentment can’t be shoved under the bed just because you’re between hotel sheets and wearing perfume and a smile for a change. If something’s wrong between the two of you, Dr McIntosh says, you’re better off staying at home, turning off the TV and really talking for a change.

Perfect planning
Perfect sex requires perfect planning: not just where and when but also (and especially) how – which isn’t nearly as unromantic as it sounds. Spontaneous sex can be fabulous, but during planning Expectation’s seductive sister – Anticipation – also gets a turn.

The more detailed the planning, the greater and more delightful the anticipation. Sex without anticipation is just sex, writes sex therapist Dr Belisa Vranich on And what you have in mind is usually a lot more than that.

Expectation can make a cold bedfellow and also be the reason you feel so alone afterwards if things fall flat. You’ve kept your secret expectations all to yourself, thinking your partner would anticipate them. Which leaves you both disappointed and upset. Planning and anticipation, on the other hand, are shared pleasures. Sex is like dancing – much better when two people do it together.

And being able to match each other’s tempo to perfect the most delicate turns and dips of the tango means you need to learn the steps together. When there’s a special night, day or weekend coming up, you need to get your heads together in good time. Discuss exactly what you have in mind with your partner – don’t expect him or her to read you like braille in the dark.

The kind of communication essential for great sex takes courage, Jonti Searll says. You have to be prepared to have an extremely intimate conversation with your partner and probably say the kinds of things that would make your mother’s hair curl (best not to think of your mom at all).

Take a deep breath and trust your partner. Turn off the lights if that helps. Send an SMS in the dark if you have to. Or you could send each other subtly provocative SMSes or downright naughty MMSes during the day.

If you can trust each other with your deepest feelings you’ll be able to journey together to the peaks of Tantric sex – the opposite of the lie-back-and-think-of-England kind – in which your pleasure is that much greater because it’s consciously and purposefully shared. Mutual trust is absolutely essential for a good sex life. Unfortunately men often underestimate just how vital emotional safety is to women, Searll says. Time, talking and touching are just as important.

Sadly, sex is a foreign language for many – just as the vagina is a foreign country for many women and the penis a kind of love thermometer for many men, Dr McIntosh says. She encourages her patients to get to know that foreign country and to travel together frequently over the rest of the 2 m² of skin covering the body. And to be patient with the thermometer.

Despite the impression condom advertisements create, more than half of all men over 50 have erectile problems. According to Dr McIntosh there are only two causes: either it’s medical (which means off to the doctor with you) or he has a hurtful wife or partner who puts him down so often the thermometer can’t forgive her, not even when she lights candles and dons hot lingerie.

A romantic weekend that’s really a ceasefire will definitely not live up to expectations, which is why both therapists advise it’s best to clear out all the stuff that’s been swept under the carpet of your relationship before you leave the kids with Gran and book the guest house.

Then again, if you’ve gathered the courage and gone to the trouble that makes special occasion sex succeed, cancel the guest house anyway. Exceed your expectations at home – pleasure that’s been planned by two brave people who trust one another is indeed a special occasion in itself.

Medical passion-killers
Emotional issues could be one of the reasons lovemaking sometimes goes wrong on those special occasions – but a common, fixable medical problem could also be the cause.

Emotional problems such as stress, poor self-image and depression are the usual suspects and the first things you should think about.

Illnesses that make you tired are also common causes. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart ailments, HIV and cancer are well-known passion-killers.

Flu or colds with their accompanying fevers, sore throats, coughs and blocked sinuses don’t exactly create the ideal environment for sex.

Fear of infecting – or being infected by – someone with a sexually transmitted infection puts love in the deep freeze, as do vaginal infections.

Three frequent problems men have and are afraid of talking about are: premature ejaculation (very common), erectile dysfunction (half of men older than 50) and inflammation of the prostate (in older men).

Obesity can bury your sex life in several ways: it makes sex physically uncomfortable, lowers your libido and hurts your self-esteem.

Pregnancy doesn’t just mean carrying a baby in the uterus. Hormonal fluctuations and physical discomfort put some pregnant women off sex or even being approached.

No matter how romantic the moment and environment, if a woman finds sex painful, she’ll try to avoid it. One in 16 women experiences vaginismus, a condition in which the pertinent muscles clench so tightly that sex becomes impossible and excruciating.

Go to a doctor when:
You experience any medical symptoms such as pain, or when romance and attention can’t fix a low libido over a period of a few months. But be realistic: if you’re going through a traumatic time, a poor libido is normal.

Make a point of resolving the problems in your relationship, says sex therapist Dr Elna McIntosh. The golden rule is: when you’re worried, see your doctor. Surfing the internet or reading self-help books won’t solve your problem.

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(Elizabeth Brandt, YOU/Pulse magazine) 

(Picture: Sensual couple from Shutterstock)


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